February 19, 2015

Comics Epidemic at Dharavi Biennale

by Anusha Narayanan

On a bright afternoon, on an open terrace, with the sun hitting the mosaic of the terrace floor and bouncing off in various shades, we attended the launch of the Comics Epidemic: an Anthology of Tales from Dharavi, a book published by Mumbai-based NGO, SNEHA and Dharavi Biennale. The book contains stories sketched by the participants of the four Artboxes, which were held over 20 odd days in the last few months. There are a total of 76 comics, and having read some of them, we can say that the stories are quite spontaneous and sardonic. Mentored by artist Chaitanya Modak, the children of Dharavi, mostly in their teens, had quite a transformational experience having been asked to confront the issue of Sex and Sexuality for the book.



At the launch, some interesting perspectives were shared by the participants of the Comics Epidemic Artbox. For instance, Kisan Salbul, whose strip “Parde mei rehne do” talks about masturbation, says how difficult it is for such issues to even be discussed in the open. “In a country like ours, and a place like Dharavi, no one talks about sex or sexuality. We are a population of more than a billion, yet, we don’t like talking  about sex. So for my comic, I imagined what a Talk Show hosted on the topic of masturbation would unfurl into, and just drew that.” It takes a fair bit of courage for these adolescents to even discuss the topic, then to form a story in comic form and execute it, decide what to edit out to keep the story impactful and not silly, knowing that their friends and family might want to get a copy of the book for themselves.


Preceding the launch, we took a round of the exhibition that was underway, a floor below the terrace, where installations made by the participants of the Biennale were on display. What caught our eyes were two of the installations in specific, one called Vidya and the other was a set of Three Archers. Vidya, is inspired by the story of a pregnant woman of the same name, which provoked the participants to probe at the sensitive issue of discrimination against the girl child.

The story goes that Vidya, heavily pregnant, was admitted to the hospital and when her husband found out that the child was likely to be a girl, he decided they would give her away as soon as she was born. Vidya, confided in her friends when they visited, and cradled her stomach in her arms saying that she would love the child as long as it was inside her. In that moment, someone clicked a photo of her shadow and this became the installation, made of used syringe bottles, wires and LED lights. The Three Archers tell the story of a multifaceted, multi-cultural Dharavi where the only Brand and the only Religion is recycling. These too have been made with recycled materials, such as oil cans, steel spokes, used tyres, wooden scaffolds, leather belts etc.



The launch also saw three sign painters from Dharavi: Mahendra Vartak, Dilip Thawal and Niren Savaniya, paint comics from the book, live on stage. These painters were part of the Priya’s Shakti Artbox and have also created some wonderful portraits of the healers of Dharavi – doctors, healers and bone-setters – who have served the people here for long. Their work is on display at the Colourbox.


The Alley Galli Biennale, which exhibits the outcome of the various Artboxes which have taken place since February 2013, will be on display at three venues in Dharavi from 15 Feb to 7 March 2015. Do head out to the Colourbox and check out their Facebook page for details of daily launches.

Lots happening in Dharavi!

If you want to grab a copy of The Comics Epidemic book for yourself, you can do so at any of the three venues. They are reasonably priced… and we already have ours.

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